Chemicals Collide

Posted: March 4, 2014 in Music nobody listens to, Shovels, Uncategorized

Some number of years ago, it is weird to think of it (just looked it up in my Sekrit Archive, and it was 2006)  I went to a tiny local rock club to see a a band in the back room; it was the kind of place where there was kind of a 50/50 floor space between musicians and fans.  I had seen the Figgs, the Mekons, and others at this Cactus Club; this night it was a whacked out quadro called Cloud Cult.

And they made my silly zombie noggin vibrate.  Craig Minowa and his band were strange and loud and divergent and intense and all of that made me immediately send them to the top of my favorite live bands.  Amongst the crowd of Free Hot Lunch, the Figgs, the Mekons, and Black 47, they were now a band I would see whenever possible.  Their mix of pop, psychedelic, folk, alt-squawk and art-rock was enthralling.

While I have seen Cloud Cult at several local shows, I think I may have missed the last one or two they played at Turner Hall (sorry guys). And while I have promoted their recorded works to my friend, it was always qualified by saying “you have to see them live”.  Because as great as their music is, their live shows are cathartic and joyous and emotional and fun and an unsurpassed opportunity to scream at the universe “I..AM..ALIVE!!!”

So on Sunday night, I went to see them do a double set (one acoustic, one loud) with Good Friend Rory.  Who was able to prevail upon his contacts to give use elderly folk a couple of strategic chairs.  Which I mostly eschewed, as I was dead center in front of the stage for most of the night, weeping with joy and catharsis.

Craig Minowa is all about grief and catharsis and joy and finding life in pain.  He and his wife Connie (now a live painter with the band) lost their son Kaidin when he was two for unexplained reasons.  Connie holed up in a cabin, painting and letting nature help her cope; Craig shut himself into his tiny studio, obsessively writing songs.  Many of them featured recordings of his son.  Friends, worried about him, would stop by and he would play the songs; they all said that while it was mostly insanity recorded, it also was remarkable and compelling and needed to be released.  And so it was, self released and Craig sent copies to every college radio station in the country.  And eventually a radio station manager called him back to say that “They Live On The Sun” was their most requested album.

They had Connie Minowa and Scott West live-painting, of course, and a great slideshow on the scrim behind.  They played a first set in semi-acoustic format, including one of my favorites “Transistor Radio” and here you go:

And after a short break, they hit the stage with a loud, long and anthemic set that even featured the entire band playing frenzied kettle drums, and the painters spinning their paintings like ZZTop did with guitars, except that they were PAINTING AS THEY SPUN!

Craig Minowa said something very funny during a break.  Y’see, while I had first seen them in a small dive bar, and a couple of times at the estimable Shank Hall, it has been my understanding that the club triumvirate of Riverside, Pabst, and Turner Hall have been ALL about treating artists well.  And when Craig was trying to explain why they haven’t been by lately, he said “the only thing I can say is that when we put together the tour schedule, we look for open spots at Turner, and if there aren’t any, we move on. Sorry.”

At this point, I will turn over the commentary to Good Friend Ror:

“The first set (acoustic) had me weeping with joy, the second set (electric) had me weeping with awe. I could expound upon the love of cello and violin in a band and harmonies that brought tears to my eyes. The lyrics, the emotion…I have seen almost 400 shows…. And I have to put this in the top 10 if not the greatest show I have ever seen”

Yeah.  For those who are interested, there’s a movie about the band “No One Said It Would Be Easy” that’s on Hulu and rentable at iTunes (4 bucks) or buyable ($5!).

And I know almost none of you care, but this is the set(s) list:


  1. You Were Born
  2. Breakfast With My Shadow
  3. Meet Me Where You’re Going
  4. The Ghost Inside Our House
  5. Responsible
  6. You’re the Only Thing in Your Way
  7. Chain Reaction
  8. Running With The Wolves
  9. Journey of the Featherless
  10. Purpose
  11. Light at the End of the Tunnel
  12. Pretty Voice
  13. Transistor Radio
  14. Chemicals Collide
  15. Complicated Creation


  1. All the Things We Couldn’t See
  2. Everybody Here Is A Cloud
  3. Car Crash
  4. Sleepwalker
  5. Intro
  6. The Calling
  7. Blessings
  8. Love You All
  9. Unexplainable Stories
  10. 1x1x1
  11. Love & The First Law of Thermodynamics
  12. Good Friend
  13. You’ll Be Bright


  1. The Exploding People

Well, before I wrap this up, I need to mention that in addition to scoring a new CD that isn’t commercially available until April 15th (and getting it signed, natch), I also got this sweet signed print:

Cloud Cult

They are all so cuddly.

I took a little time to talk to Craig while he was doing his own load-out, to get a signature and let him know how much I appreciated his music, all the way back to that Cactus Club show in aught-six.  I think the other 8 people there in aught-six also liked it.

But the thing is; that over the years ’08-’11, things were terrifyingly difficult around this zombie. I was pretty much a raw mass of terror, frustration, pain, and exposed nerve endings.  At this time, I even found it difficult to find solace in music.  After a while, I started to wonder if I ever again would be able to find the meaning and comfort and joy in music that I had in the past.  Look, I never even played a Genesis Long Playlist.

Don’t panic, friends and guinea pigs; it’s not so bad anymore.  But even though I have still had some enjoyment of shows and records, they seemed a little more pale, a little less redemptive than in the past.  And I started to wonder if some essential contacts had been burned, twisted, and melted in the scorch of high stress.  And that bothered me.

But I will tell you that the circuits still work.  Cloud Cult brought me to tears, and joy, and made the connections between despair and redemption plain and undeniable.  Maybe it takes a bit more energy to make the spark happen, but yes it is  still there, it still works.

It was so good to see this band again, and this presentation was so perfect for them. Talking with them, and other fans after the show, it is remarkable how they establish a connection with each other.  The intersection of emotion and art is compelling, and the most notable thing about the music is how Craig writes songs that are emotionally raw, and recognize the impact of grief and despair while still being able to use those experiences to provide strength. 

The show made me happy.  I have been listening to Cloud Cult for three days straight.

  1. mikey says:


    “Live painting?”

    Unfamiliar concept – assuming it’s like “live blogging” but with paint on an easel. I imagine I would be fascinated by the process and unable to look away. Did you take any pics?

    • No, I have become unwilling to take crappy smartphone pics of a show in lieu of actually, you know, LIVING it and enjoying it.

      There are lots of pics at the band’s website, though, and the live Utubers show it; also, the documentary I mentioned, “No One Said it Would Be Easy” shows a lot of it.

      But it IS just what it sounds like. Two painters, Connie Minowa and Scott West, stand to either side of the stage with easels and use the performance as stimulus for a painting. The part where they spin the paintings and apply paint is particularly enthralling; it adds a randomness to the process that must be fun to work with.

      And they have the time-span of the show to work. Sunday night, the show was a bit under two hours, so it is very fast. In some of the older shows, they did work on the paintings after the show was done, but they seemed to have gotten quicker.

      And then they auction the paintings. One went for 800 bucks and one for 1000. Good Friend Rory put in a bid of $750 for the one, but was outbid. Previously, they did the bidding online but this way, they get to meet the folks who buy their work.

      It’s pretty awesome.

  2. There are 9 albums (some of them are singles) on emusic — which one should I start with?

    • They Live on the Sun is the most harrowing. It’s the documentation of his breakdown after the death of his son.

      Love is the most recent, and it is awesome.

      Aurora Borealis is also very very good. It also includes a song based on The Princess Bride.

      Advice From The Happy Hippopotamus is one of my favorites, and it includes “Transistor Radio”. If you are limited to just one, this would be the one I’d recommend, it was the first one I got.

      April 15th sees the release of an acoustic live album, “Unplug”

      You can also get downloads direct from their web site, which has the added benefit of sending money more directly to the band.

      If you get a chance, see them live. And then expect to get all the rest of the albums.

    • I’ve got emusic credit I need to use up, so I’ll grab a couple — looks like “Aurora Borealis/They Live on the Sun” is available as a double CD for one price so I’ll probably grab that and the new one. Unfortunately the Hippopotamus one isn’t available there, I’ll have to get that from their site. Thanks for the tips.

    • Finished listening to “Aurora Borealis/They Live on the Sun” and am on track 7 of “Love” now. I like what I’ve heard so far of the new album much better, but they’re both good.

    • Yep, just finished listening to “Love” and I thought it was great. The other ones are OK, but this one is much more my style. Cueing it up again…

      • I can see that. Those early albums are mostly Craig Minowa on his own, and processing his grief. Love was a band effort, so it is more rounded.

        Those early albums, though, don’t be surprised if they hit you when you don’t expect it. That’s how it worked with me, anyways. I had a similar reaction, and suddenly one day, i heard one of the songs and had to listen to the album straight through three or four times on headphones.

    • mikey says:

      That’s a really cool dynamic. I LOVE it when it happens. I had bought the CD “The Bottle & Fresh Horses”, but it didn’t have any radio songs on it, anything familiar to latch on to. So it sat on the shelf for quite a while. Then one night I was screwing around and I put in on the player and I heard, actually HEARD (that’s the magic, right?) “Broken Record”. And I’ve been a fan ever since…

    • I also had kind of the same reaction as OBS when Love came out. The first few listens, it was superb.

      But after a bit of time, those earlier albums are still the ones with the bigger emotional impact.

  3. Currently listening to this album:

    Video is random and semi-amusing — the guy getting stuff done to him is the leader of the band, the people doing stuff are the bandmates. But mostly I’d just like to note that I have that same motorcycle, but in red.

Go ahead, tell me how I fucked up this time.

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